Posted by on October 2, 2016

After a lengthy trip to British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest, and seemingly endless jetlag, it is time to get back into the blog the way a pianist warms up.  With some finger exercises.

Therefore, in no particular order…

The First Presidential Debate

This was a dismal affair.

I won’t comment about it, except to identify the howler of the night.  No, it didn’t come from Trump, because although he uttered a great many lies and factual errors, most of them were consequence- and substance-free.

The worst lie of the evening was when Clinton twice blamed the global financial crisis on the Bush-era tax cuts and “trickle down” economics.  Of all the liberal attempts to blame the GFC exclusively on free-market policies, this is the most absurd yet.  There is absolutely no plausible chain of economic logic that can take you from tax cuts to housing bubbles.  Even someone as economically ignorant as Clinton must know this.

Even worse was the fact that Trump was too dumb to call her out on this, just as he was too stupid to respond to her attack on his hoping for a house price collapse to benefit from the buying opportunity.  The correct response, in both cases, would have been to point out the policies that led to the collapse, policies on which the Obama administration has been doubling down while Clinton applauds.

Brexit

The sparring over Brexit has begun, even though the Brits have still not triggered Article 50.[1]

It is very clear already that the fantasy of the Brexiteers, that they would be able to maintain access to the EU market without having to accept the free movement of people, is not going to materialize.  As predicted by myself and others, the formerly communist EU countries have said clearly that they will block any deal that gives the UK access without retaining the free movement of people.  And, since each member of the EU has a veto over the final agreement, this threat is entirely credible.

Although this has been the clear position of the formerly communist countries for a long time, I have only recently heard an argument for its economic, as opposed to political and negotiating, logic.  A Polish economist recently noted that the only way for a Polish barista or construction worker to export his or her services to the UK is to move there physically.  Therefore, it would be unfair to allow a UK manufacturing worker or banker to export his or her products and services into the EU freely while denying the same opportunity – through physical movement – to the Polish barista or construction worker.

This is important because, although there is raw power at the bottom of most negotiations, there is also the need for an intellectual fig leaf.  And this is a pretty good one.

Ted Cruz

During the Republican debates, I was often tempted to write something about Ted Cruz.  I could never fully understand why he was so hated.  Sure, his religiosity is nauseating, even though – given his wacky parentage – it may actually be fairly sincere.  And his speaking style frequently lapses into gag-worthy rhythms, particularly when he is shooting for earnestness.  But he is obviously a smart guy and, on the issues, he was far from the worst among the Republican candidates.  So, why was he so hated?

Well, with his endorsement of Trump, I now know why.  As The Wall Street Journal pointed out in a recent editorial, Cruz is just too flagrantly opportunistic for his own good.

This is why The Economist recently quoted the former spokesman for his campaign as saying “I’m just trying to get this Cruz sticker off my car.”

Carbon Tax

Greg Ip from the WSJ recently had an article about a referendum in Washington State to introduce a carbon tax to fight climate change.  I am in favor of a revenue-neutral carbon tax for the reasons I explained earlier.

A revenue-neutral carbon tax is precisely what is being proposed in Washington, leading to the headline in Ip’s article “A Carbon Tax Pitch That Doesn’t Hurt Growth.”  However, this is the very reason why the proposal is being opposed by many on the left.  In Ip’s words:

The resistance [to the referendum] comes not just from the usual opponents on the right, but even more strikingly from the left. The reason: Many environmentalists see climate change as an opportunity to remake the economic order. They want to use carbon taxes to fund renewable energy and green technology and bolster the incomes of workers and communities they say are most hurt by climate change. Whatever the merits of these goals, the effect is to equate climate policy with bigger government, which makes it harder to achieve broad-based support.

They just can’t help themselves.

Asian-Americans

If you ever had any doubts about the fundamental ineptitude of the Republican Party, then its failures with Asian-Americans should put these to rest.

The WSJ recently ran an article about the parties’ attempts to woo this ethnic minority, which although diverse is the fastest growing in America.

The article points out that as recently as two decades ago, Asian-Americans voted solidly Republican.  In 2000, however, Al Gore won their vote by 14% and in 2012, Obama garnered 73% of the Asian-American vote versus 26% for Romney.  Polls show Trump losing big among Asian-Americans.

It is hard to imagine an ethnic group more fundamentally inclined to a small-government, self-reliance, family-oriented and strong-defence message than Asian-Americans.  Particularly when, as I have pointed out before (see “The Model Minority” here), leftist policies are clearly producing discrimination against Asian-Americans in things like higher education.

There are clear parallels here to the tortured relationship between the Republican Party and the Jewish community.  I think that it is because, in both of these cases, the Republicans have been inept enough to allow the Democrats to paint them as generically opposed to minorities.  This is quite an accomplishment when we are talking about the party of the Jim Crow south demonizing the party of Abraham Lincoln.

Proof that The Beatles are Overrated

I have long felt that The Beatles are massively overrated.  Listen to their music and lyrics.  Pure drivel.

I now have proof.  Apparently, an artificial intelligence program has recently become the first to write a song.  The article describes the song as “a catchy, sunny tune reminiscent of The Beatles.”

Logical mistake: this doesn’t prove that the AI program is “pretty good” as the article claims.  It only proves that The Beatles are pretty shitty.

Montana

During my recent trip, I spent some time in Montana.  There is a lot to like:

  • As the name implies, there are mountains in Montana.
  • You can drive 80 mph on the highways in Montana, which is a bit higher than the European standard and much better than the sleep-inducing limits in most other places.  On the basis of my preliminary sampling, it also appears that the speed limit is more of a guideline than a rule.
  • Even more importantly, the drivers in Montana actually understand that the left-lane is for passing.  This is why, in my youth, we always called it “the passing lane” and not the “I-think-I-will stay-here-like-a-selfish-moron-and-make-people-undertake-me lane.”  Of all the cultural degradations that have struck the USA in recent years, the failure to adhere to the rule of “pass quickly and then move to the right” is one of the worst.  I first noticed this years ago in New Jersey and, overwhelmingly, in that fountainhead of all things wrong, California.  This idiocy has not made its way to Montana yet, although it is definitely in Washington State.  It must be a “blue state/red state” thing.
  • You can ride a motorcycle in Montana without a helmet, not something that the Economic Man would ever do or recommend, but a good sign of freedom and probably beneficial from a Darwinian perspective.
  • Taxes are on the low side in Montana and the state is ranked 17th in the Cato Institute’s freedom ranking (as opposed to California at 49th place and New York in dead last).
  • There appear to be a lot of classic rock radio stations, a very welcome relief from the UK, where the stations just repeat the top 30 ad nauseam.

Tesla and Autonomous Driving

While covering long distances on interstate highways, I thought how nice it would be to have something like Tesla’s autonomous driving to take control in the wide open spaces.  But then I also thought how a Tesla, with its limited range and refueling ability, would have been the absolutely last car that I would have wanted on this trip.

This is another idiocy of the Tesla value proposition, like the zero-emissions car with a “Ludicrous Mode” that allows it to go 0-60mph in 2.8 seconds, burning through tire rubber and battery charge as it does so.

A fundamentally silly vehicle produced, unprofitably, by a conman whose day of reckoning is fast approaching.  And now Musk is talking about colonizing Mars when he can’t even design intelligent rear doors and seats in his SUV.  What a pretentious ass, much beloved by the many kindred souls in Silly-Con Valley.

Trump’s Not-So-Blind Trust

This is another case where it is hard to tell if Trump is stupid or he thinks we all are.

When questions have arisen about potential conflicts of interest with his businesses if he is elected, Trump dismisses these by saying that he will create a “blind trust.”  This is a time-honored method for elected officials to deal with this issue.  It actually works, at least reasonably well, when the investments are in liquid securities which can, at least in theory, change the minute after investment decisions are handed over to the trustee.  However, it doesn’t work when your investments are a bunch of high-profile buildings and businesses with your name splattered all over them, any sale of which would be widely reported.

In other words, there is absolutely no way for Trump to be unaware of, and therefore indifferent to, his investments during any presidency, unless he liquidates everything and converts his investments to portfolio holdings.  Which he obviously has no intention of doing.

So, I ask you, is he stupid?  Or does he think we are?  Or some combination of the two?

Some Cultural Recommendations

The movie Hell or High Water is amazing and fully deserving of its 98% rating by Rotten Tomatoes.  The dialogue is excellent and the two “buddy” relationships – one of the copy side, one with the robbers – are beautifully developed.  Jeff Bridges, playing the lead copy, just gets better and better with age.  In this one, he reminded me of the equally great Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men, both playing grizzled veteran cops too smart for their surroundings (although much less so in the case of Bridges, whose half-Indian, half-Mexican partner is his perfect foil).  The movie also makes a fascinating book end with Bridges’ performance in The Last Picture Show, a film he made 45-years ago with an equally bleak presentation of small-town Texas life.

If there are any tennis fans who haven’t read Open, the autobiography of Andre Agassi, then you must do this immediately.  An amazing life story, extremely well written.  I am now tempted to read Pete Sampras: A Champion’s Mind, but I fear that it will be thin gruel after Agassi’s book.  Sampras versus Agassi was a classic rivalry of opposites that played a huge part in Agassi’s career and life.  This book also confirmed me in my opinion that tennis by far the most interesting major sport, in large part because it is almost uniquely one-on-one.  Agassi talks at length of the “loneliness” of tennis, even more so than boxing, where at least your opponent is close up.

The HBO series The Night Of is starting out superbly.  John Turturro is great as the washed-out lawyer seeking a moment of glory and redemption, and Riz Ahmed (who was superb in the absolutely hilarious Four Lions, which I have recommended before) is the hapless victim who, the series is now starting to hint, may not be as doe-eyed innocent as he appears.  I love the back story of Turturro’s eczema.  It seems to be telling us that as Ahmed and his family are getting screwed over by the American legal system, the medical system is doing the same to Turturro.

Roger Barris

Weybridge, United Kingdom

I Wish That I Had Said That…

“Liberals have ominously relabeled themselves ‘progressives,’ forsaking a noun that had its roots in ‘liber,’ meaning free.  To progress is merely to go forward, and you can go forward into a pit,” by Lionel Shriver, the novelist who wrote the very creepy We Need to Talk About Kevin.

“Christopher Hichens is to the Catholic Church and Mother Theresa what Michael Moore is to a ham sandwich: relentless, unstoppable and without fear.  We love Christopher Hichens,” by Penn Jillette, in his Showtime documentary series Bullshit.  Proving that there is no justice in the world, Hichens is now prematurely dead, while the Catholic Church just re-wrote their own rules to make Mother Theresa a saint prematurely.

“There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please.  And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences,” by P.J. O’Rourke, the humorist

 

[1] This is the article in the Lisbon Treaty that gives the rules for a country exiting the EU.

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Comments

  1. ML
    October 2, 2016

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    So, what about The Stones?

    • Roger
      October 2, 2016

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      Also, not wild, but at least The Stones are edgier. Give me Dylan (from the same epic), Springsteen, REM, Talking Heads, etc.

  2. Dave Anderson
    October 3, 2016

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    Montana — glad you spent some time there, stop by Gallatin Gateway if you come again.

    The mountains are great, which are enhanced by basin and range geology. This leads to places like Bozeman, a 30 mile flat circle surrounded by seven mountain ranges, and no bad view any place in the valley.

    Re passing lane etiquette — my impression is that Montana state troopers are as likely to give you a sitting-in-the left-lane ticket as a speeding ticket. They certainly give tickets to campers with too many cars stuck behind them on two lane roads like U.S. 191 through Gallatin Canyon.

    Re helmet laws — what do you think of the argument that motorcyclists are more likely to wind up as paralyzed wards of the state, and if so, they should have to have real long term disability insurance to ride without a helmet? Or would you offset thatsocial cost by the social benefits of their organ donations? Another oddity — I ride in Montana, and observe that it is mostly local Harley riders who don’t wear helmets.

    • Roger
      October 4, 2016

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      Dave, you are really bumming me out with this comment because I now realize that I drove right past you — coming up from Yellowstone — and I didn’t think to get in touch with you in advance for a long overdue meeting. We were in the Bozeman area around September 17th. Please tell me that you weren’t around then — I would feel much better.

      Sounds like the troopers have some common sense in Montana. I am amazed that people are allowed to ride the left lane. In my youth, this would have been completely unacceptable. In Europe, I am happy to report that it is non-existent. My Slovak girlfriend and co-pilot/navigator was freaking out. These are the types of things, along with Donald Trump, obesity and excessive tipping, that make it difficult to convince her to live in America.

      I was checking out Bozeman as a potential long-term living place. I like middle-sized college towns near skiing and other outdoor activities. The only problem is that it doesn’t have the type of lush, green vegetation that I also like to see. But the tradeoff is lush vegetation versus sunshine, and I think that I come down on the side of sunshine. Plus, I think that we passed through Bozeman at a bad time of the year. Comments?

      I didn’t realize that you were a rider, although we might have talked about this. The question you raise about helmet laws points out the incompatibility between freedom and broad government support. I remember arguing this point when I was on a debate team in high school. The reality is that, if the government is paying the piper, then logic dictates that it can call the tune. The solution, of course, is that the government shouldn’t be socializing these costs but that they should be between a rider and his insurance company. In fact, in a free society, insurance companies have an enormous role to play in controlling (through incentives and inspection) risky behavior — I am sure that you have heard that the first building codes and firemen were provided by insurance companies. Unfortunately, the general drift of government policy is a movement in the exact opposite direction. Instead of allowing insurance companies to provide incentives in favor of beneficial behavior and against risky or detrimental behavior through price discrimination, the government is forcing them to do the exact opposite in the interest of “fairness.” This is stupid.

      As a second best, if a person shows up with a head wound at a local hospital without having been wearing a helmet, then he should either be denied care at the public cost or some kind of huge penalty should be imposed if he recovers. Likewise with things like smoking.

      As for Harley riders, since I can assume from your question you are not one, then this is just one more example of their bad judgement. Give me a Goldwing instead of one of those primitive beasts. Harley riders not wearing helmets is probably a good thing from a Darwinian perspective, except most of them are too old and have probably already reproduced.

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